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Posted August 16, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Election officials advise voters to check status early

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Some local registrars fear voters awaiting new cards from the state may not have much time to fix errors before registration cuts off Oct. 15.

An executive order from Gov. Bob McDonnell ensures that Virginia will print new cards for registered voters in time for the general election Nov. 6. The State Board of Elections says voters should receive the cards by early October, well enough ahead of the deadline to register to vote, according to Deputy Secretary Justin Riemer.

But Shenandoah County General Registrar Lisa McDonald warns voters to start checking and updating their registration as soon as possible and not depend so much on the state-issued voter cards.

"I would prefer if a voter knows that they have not updated their address or they've moved or changed their name because they've gotten married, I would prefer to go ahead and try to update now," McDonald advised. "I think if they wait for the voter card mailing and then realize [there's a problem] it's going to be a very short turnaround time.

"And then of course there's the possibility that some cards during redistricting for whatever reason didn't make it to people," McDonald said, noting that a voter may not realize the card went to an old address until the Oct. 15 deadline to register has passed, nor will they get a message in time alerting them there is a problem.

Warren County General Registrar Carol L. Tobin sounded less concerned about whether voters received the state-issued cards in time to make changes before the deadline. Should a person encounter problems he or she can contact the registrar's office and that department will issue a voter card, according to Tobin.

This election may pose other difficulties for both voters and state and local officials. The state also awaits pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice to approve a voter identification law enacted by the General Assembly earlier this year. The State Board of Elections expects to receive pre-clearance in the next few days. The 60 days the justice department has to issue a decision ends Saturday.

"But Virginia's moving forward with the basically the intent of implementing the law with the voter ID changes," Riemer said. "We have no choice. We can't wait for the DOJ to pre-clear it so there has been a change."

The state previously required those people wishing to vote at the polls to show some form of identification from a list of choices. If the person did not have any of the items from the list, the voter could sign a form affirming his or her identity before casting a ballot. The new law expands the list of acceptable identification documents but removes the affirmation option. Voters without any of the documents may cast a provision ballot on Election Day but in order for that ballot to count, he or she must provide to the local electoral board any of the identification documents by noon on the Friday following the election.

Another glitch: Federal voting law, which would govern national contests like the presidential election, requires a voter provide a picture ID. State law does not require that the idenfication have a picture.

"We're doing everything we can to get the word out there that individuals need to update their registration but it's the voter's responsibility to do that," Riemer said.

Those people who have not changed addresses, names or other information remain on the rolls, Riemer said. If mailings from the SBE to voters are returned undeliverable then the agency has an indication the person no longer lives at that address. A second mailing sent to address alerts the person that if the individual doesn't respond, the SBE will move the voter to inactive status. Inactive doesn't mean the person can't vote if he or she goes to the polls but the individual runs a risk of having to vote in his or her old precinct, Riemer explained. A registered voter can cast a ballot in his or her old precinct for a limited time before having to register under the new precinct.

"If people have not moved since last time they voted there really should be no worry from them," Riemer said.

But the SBE official noted that since localities have redistricted in the past year polling places may have changed.

Visit http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Voter_Information/Index.html for more information on voting and to update voter registration status.

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